Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Creating a freeform economy

A good freeform economy will create tension and conflict amongst the players. A careful balance of demand and supply should ensure that there isn’t quite enough money to go around – and that in itself can drive characters and plot through a game. However, creating a good game economy is not as simple as just adding money...

There is no need to include money in a game if nobody has anything to spend it on. Just collecting money for money’s sake isn't a particularly worthwhile goal for anyone – even in the real world people accumulate money because they want to buy things. So if your game doesn’t need money, don’t include it.

If you’re not sure whether your game needs money, here’s a few that do and don’t:
  • Hollywood Lies – money is needed to pay off blackmailers, finance movies, pay for scripts, etc.
  • Death on the Gambia – money is needed for airline tickets out of Gambia, pay off debts, bribe policemen, etc.
  • Death in the Fast Lane – money isn't needed in Death in the Fast Lane as contracts are more important (in the game at least) than the actual exchange of money. So Death in the Fast Lane doesn’t include money. (Note Death in the Fast Lane is no longer published by Freeform Games.)
So assuming that a game has a need for money, here’s a simple way of working out how much you need.

In a spreadsheet create a table with three columns. In the first column enter the name of someone who needs money, in the second enter the details of why they want it, and in the third enter the amount they want. So it might look a bit like this.

Bob Pay off gambling debts£5,000
Sheila Get a ticket out of here £1,000
Tina Raise money to invest in business £3,000

(In general it’s important that the figures are in the same ballpark so that everyone can trade equally with one another. If someone is much richer than other characters, it can cause problems with the game balance.)

Then you need to create a table for the supply. This time you are including all the money that the characters are starting with – along with any other sources of income.

(Other sources of income might be, for example, prize money in a competition or buried treasure.)

Marge £1,000
1st Prize Snail Race £3,000
2nd Prize Snail Race £1,000

The important issue is to ensure that the demand is less than the supply. That means that although in theory everyone could end up with the money they need, it’s more likely that there will be winners and losers at the end of the game. That means that the players will be negotiating and bargaining with each other to try and achieve their goals, which is what I’m looking for.

In general, I try to aim to have a demand that is about 20%-50% higher than the supply – although there’s inevitably some judgement involved in that figure. Ultimately, the only way to find out if you’ve got the demand/supply ratio correct is to test the game.

Other things to watch:

  • Rich characters should generally be looking to spend their money, and poor characters should generally have things (items, information or skills) that other people want.
  • Don’t create a character who is so rich that they can solve all of their problems by paying for them.
  • In historical games, you may need to explain some typical prices so that everyone knows what money is worth.
  • Be wary of having things that are so expensive that they unbalance the game. There’s nothing wrong with having them, just be careful of the effect they can have on a game economy.

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